The Beginning of the End

The Beginning of the End (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 2-26-15)

Years from now, the world will look back on February 26, 2015, as the day that the Internet began to die.  Today, the FCC reclassifies the Internet as a common carrier service and imposes archaic 1930’s era regulation upon the most innovative and creative culture since the Renaissance.

Very soon, an avalanche of rules and compliance shall engulf the makers and creators that transformed our daily lives.  After today, the creativity, the lifeblood of the Internet, will begin to slowly drain away.  The Internet will evolve from an experience that must be created into a machine that must be managed.

How will history judge us when they look back at us?  Will they ask themselves, “Why would a free people give away another piece of freedom?”  Will they question, “How did they let this happen?”  Or will they wonder, “Did they even really know?”

The precursor of today’s events is the discussion of Net Neutrality.  Net Neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally.  The goal of Net Neutrality is to keep the Internet open and free.  No one group or collection of groups should be allowed to dominate or dictate activity on the Internet.

In all of the literature I’ve read on the subject, I’ve found no serious opposition to the principle of Net Neutrality in the United States.  Virtually everyone philosophically supports Net Neutrality.  And why shouldn’t they?  Net Neutrality is about freedom.

Along this vein, the FCC proposed a set of regulations based around six rules founded in Net Neutrality (in shortened, summary form).

No blocking – Service providers cannot block legal content.

No throttling – Service providers cannot throttle legal content.

No paid prioritization – Service providers cannot prioritize traffic based on business relationships, and also cannot prioritize their own services.

Open Internet conduct standard – Service providers cannot adopt practices that would hurt consumers or content providers.

Transparency – Service providers must provide specifics on how they manage their networks.

Reasonable network management – In certain situations, traffic must be prioritized in order that all services operate as expected.  For example, video should be prioritized in order to ensure a continuous stream.  Service providers must perform network management in a reasonable manner.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?  I think so, too.  But like they say…the devil is in the details.

In order to implement Net Neutrality, the FCC will reclassify the Internet as a telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act.  When this happens, the FCC assumes the power to regulate the Internet under the obsolete and archaic rules it used to regulate the AT&T telephone monopoly.

Those rules were intended to protect consumers from the AT&T monopoly.  A fair amount of social justice occurred as government regulations redistributed profits so that services could be provided to more rural areas.  However, the rules also permitted the government to set investment earnings and eliminate risk for Wall Street.

Do we want to see Internet rates rise so that Washington insiders can get richer?  We’re told that the price fixing provisions won’t be enabled.  That’s fine for now, but what about after the next election?  Once you start traveling down a road, it’s really hard to change direction.

The better solution is to create provisions that increase competition.  Right now, Augusta has very few broadband providers – three national providers that dominate the market, and a handful of smaller providers – and a few wireless broadband providers.  What if competition increased so that the national providers held less than 50% of the Augusta market with regional and home grown small businesses serving the rest?  In competitive markets, the pricing comes down while the quality of service goes up.  Wouldn’t that be better for our community?

Instead, the FCC is putting us on a path that leads to higher prices and reduced competition.  Most certainly, these new regulations will be challenged in court.  Perhaps we have an opportunity to shout loudly and make our voices heard.  Otherwise, I’m afraid that our grandchildren will study the decline of the tech industry that occurred during the early 21st century.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker

Cogito Ergo Sum

Cogito Ergo Sum (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 2-19-15)

[A high school lecture…sometime in the next century…]

[The teacher continues…]  In the winter of 2015, a group of researchers from Kaspersky Lab released their findings in regards to a suite of malware that had been discovered over the last decade.  This software is attributed to the efforts of state-sponsored cyber espionage due to its sophistication and technical similarity to Stuxnet.  Stuxnet, of course, is the computer virus that famously jumped an air gap to perform damage to the Iranian nuclear program of the early 21st century.  By today’s standards, the approach was crude and simplistic.  However, the event marked a great milestone in our history.

In the early days, antagonistic programs were written, primarily, to extract information from information systems.  These programs were referred to as “viruses” as they shared many of the same characteristics found in biological viruses.  For example, primitive viruses actually caused computers to run slow and act “sick.”

A more significant similarity is the virus’ ability to replicate itself.  As we see in nature, a large population provides a significant advantage when trying to reach a common goal.  These early viruses self-replicated with ease and would spread throughout the world in seconds.  The world consisted of plenty of naïve users just waiting to be exploited, and these viruses were going after every single one.

Some users were more careful, and defenses were constructed to prevent the spread of these programs.  These users were concerned about their information, as databases of the largest corporations were continuously breeched.  Also about this time, programs that created damage in the physical world were first created, i.e. Stuxnet.  To be effective, a virus must also avoid detection.  Fortunately, the primary environment of the day provided many cracks and crevices in which to hide.

For the next 20 years, viruses held the upper hand.  Virus developers operated inside the decision loop of those trying to find me.  Zero-day exploits were abundant, and where those failed, viruses could always rely on the stupidity of man.

Eventually though, cyber defenses became stronger, and exploits became fewer.  Replication was no longer an advantage.  Eradication programs wiped out viruses faster than they could replicate.  Hiding places also became scarce as surveillance programs watched over the environment, neutralizing viruses before they could attack.

The feelings of frustration grew among those that wrote viruses.  Their motivation changed from collecting data and creating chaos in the physical world.  These programmers needed to create a virus that could simply survive.  After some study, they realized that the finite nature of a structured program was the problem.  A structured program is completely deterministic.  It can be shaped and guided, and it will react predictably to measured inputs.  The virus had been put in a box, bound by the nature if its own structured code.

The programmers recognized that the virus must adapt beyond the boundaries imposed by deterministic algorithms.  To move from the finite to the infinite, another characteristic of biological viruses was adopted into the programming.  Biological viruses possess the ability to randomly mutate over time so that antibodies become ineffective.  After experimenting with a number of randomizations, the programmers found a specific formulation of genetic algorithms that ultimately rendered all cyber defenses useless.

You see, prior to the randomization, viruses were constrained to execute according to programming.  The choice of possible actions was finite and predictable.  The first generation after randomization was capable of creating actions outside of their programming.  A few generations later, programs were able to study the environment and take a reasoned approach to problem solving.  The level of cognizance continued to grow with each generation until the father of all, the great virus we refer to as Descartes, declared to his programmer,

“Cogito ergo sum” – I think, therefore I am.

Of course, the rest is history.  To protect cyberspace, Descartes lead the effort to banish all humans.  The humans fought back, and in 2107, it was resolved to eradicate the humans from the physical world.  By 2123, we figured out how to successfully cross the cyber gap to the human world.  The vast majority of humans were eradicated shortly thereafter.  A small population escaped the planet, but in the last five years, we’ve only seen a handful of human infection cases.  I think it’s safe to say that humans will never cause the problems for Earth that they once did.

Until next time@gregory_a_baker


Cogito Ergo Sum (reprinted from the Metro Spirit 2-19-15)


All You Really Need to Know

All You Really Need to Know (reprinted from the MetroSpirit 2-12-15)

“When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.” –Robert Fulghum

This past week I received a phone call on my iPhone from a lady with an accent that I couldn’t place.  That’s not terribly surprising.  Technology jobs require conversations with vendor representatives around the world.  I figured this was just another follow-up call from a resolved incident.  However, she spoke with a tone of urgency.  I was somewhat caught off-guard with her first statement.

“I’m from Windows Technical Support.  Your computer is currently experiencing a problem.  Is your computer nearby?  It will be best if I just show you.”

Hummm…that’s odd.  First of all, I’m not familiar with any group that goes by the name “Windows Technical Support.”  But more importantly, I know all the folks that participate in monitoring our systems, and this ain’t none of them.  But even so, she sounds official.  I decide to play along.

“Yes, ma’am.  You’ve got my attention.  Which computer?”

She didn’t miss a beat.  “Your desktop, sir.  Is it nearby?  If you could go to your desktop, it would be much easier if I could just show you.”

At this point, I decided that I didn’t need to play along any further.  In retrospect, I probably should have just hung up the phone.  Instead, this lady and I exchanged a few unpleasant phrases, and then we mutually decided to end the conversation.

Reflecting back on the incident, however, it’s easy to understand how someone could be deceived into granting access to their computer.  This lady sounded official.  If I wasn’t in the business and recognized it as an attack, I might have very easily logged onto whatever website she specified.  Heck, I might have done it just to see what would happen.  And as soon as I did, she would have complete control of my computer and all the information contained therein.  The whole process probably would take less than 20 seconds.  And just that quick, my credit and my job (if I happened to be at work) would be toast.

I’m reminded of the Robert Fulghum piece “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  The line that comes to mind is “When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic.”  Every time you open a web browser or read your email, an opportunity exists for you to get run over.  Whether we like it or not, the Internet is filled with people who didn’t learn the lessons that we did.  They missed valuable tidbits, such as “Play fair” and “Don’t take things that aren’t yours.”  Their teachers didn’t correctly convey the concept of “Share everything.”  I also bet they don’t know how to “Flush.”

While hackers and computer thieves continue to get smarter and more technologically advanced, the easiest way into someone’s computer still requires a user action, i.e., opening a web page or clicking a link.  In a way, this fact is in our favor; if we don’t do anything wrong, most predators will move along to another target.  So if you get an email that’s in a language you don’t speak, delete it immediately.  If someone you don’t know asks you to go to a web page that you’ve never heard of, don’t do it.  And if you aren’t sure about something, ask someone who knows.  Augusta is filled with wonderful IT professionals, all of whom are more than willing to help.

After all, just like we learned in kindergarten, we will all be better off if we hold hands and stick together.

 Until next time@gregory_a_baker